On Wednesday this week The Times published a front page article and a leader comment in response to our application to appeal to the Supreme Court over the Forth and Tay windfarms. Below is the response by Anne McCall, our director, which we submitted to the paper.
Charities have a duty to challenge governments if their objects are at risk.
RSPB Scotland’s decision to challenge the Scottish Ministers’ approval of four windfarms in the Firth of Forth aims to strengthen democratic accountability and clearly fulfils our charitable objects.
Suggestions that our actions are undemocratic are wide of the mark. Charities like us exist to deliver public benefit, such as protecting wildlife, and have a duty to challenge public bodies’ decisions which threaten to make those charitable objects significantly more difficult to achieve. The interaction of government, the private sector and civil society is a key contributor to societal progress and the ability of others to test government decision-making is a key part of that. In Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales, the respective charity regulators clearly recognise the role of charities to take such action as part of their legitimate campaigning, subject to appropriate oversight by Trustees. This essential role that non-governmental organisations play in all such environmental decisions is specifically recognised by the UN, through the Aarhus Convention - a legally binding international agreement on environmental democracy. This Convention is supported by both the UK and Scottish Governments. Our action is therefore an example of democracy in action.
There is also no doubt that the damage from these windfarms would be extremely significant. According to Scottish Ministers’ own estimates, in combination the four projects would kill 1,169 gannets and 1,251 puffins every year, resulting in 21% fewer gannets on the iconic Bass Rock and 25% fewer puffins on other ‘protected’ islands of the Forth. RSPB Scotland has major concerns with the manner in which these figures were generated and the way in which Scottish Ministers’ decision to approve the projects were taken. However, there is little doubt that if these estimates were realised, these would be amongst the worst impacts from windfarms on seabirds anywhere in the world and cause far from minimal damage.
The developers of the four windfarms are now progressing alternative designs which may have lower impacts. However, detailed proposals have not yet been put forward for scrutiny. RSPB is in discussions with all the developers about their new designs. We hope something will ultimately be able to be progressed with much lower impacts on seabirds. However, if left unchallenged, the existing consents, their potential impacts on seabirds and the precedent they set would all stand. This risk of harm to birds, and thus our charitable objects, is one the RSPB must challenge.
Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland
You can find out more about our work regarding the Forth and Tay windfarms on our casework page here.